Depression, Dust, and Ducks, May 1999

Duck Stamp

Blown out Dust Bowl farmers were not the only victims of the "Dirty Thirties."Migratory waterfowl also suffered from the harsh climate conditions. As the wheat fields of North America dried up and blew away so did many of the wetlands necessary for the breeding of migratory waterfowl. By the early 1930s the winds were bringing hunters more dust than ducks and drastic measures were required.; President Franklin Roosevelt appointed a special presidential committee in January 1934 to discover a means to conserve migratory waterfowl--a New Deal for Ducks. The committee was headed by Thomas Beck, editor of Collier's magazine, and eventually included Aldo Leopold and Jay Norwood "Ding" Darling. The "Beck Committee" urgently requested more funds and better management of the nation's waterfowl. With surprising swiftness both occurred in March as Darling was made the new Chief of the Bureau of Biological Survey and Roosevelt signed the first Duck Stamp Act. These two momentous changes came together as the cartoonist Darling designed the first duck stamp of two mallards landing in a lush wetland, a scene ironically rare in North America during this period. Six hundred and thirty five thousand of the stamps were sold at $1 a piece and the program was instrumental in providing a solid financial & foundation for migratory waterfowl protection.  On the 65th anniversary of the "Beck Committee" and the Duck Stamp, the NCTC is commemorating these visionaries who found dollars for ducks in the midst of Depression.  We recently dedicated the new J.N. "Ding" Darling Lodge, which accompanies the existing Aldo Leopold Lodge in providing a "refuge" for tired conservationists. In addition, on May 14-15 the NCTC will host a special conference on "Aldo Leopold's Land Ethic" to help reach consensus on further efforts that might be made to preserve our nation's resources even in times of prosperity.

--Mark Madison, USFWS Historian